McCartney/Harrison – the forgotten partnership

by christopherjamespoet

One of the indelible images of the ‘Sixties is of Paul McCartney and George Harrison sharing a mike, their guitars akimbo, shaking their mop-tops while nailing their trademark falsetto.

While Paul’s left handed bass playing saved The Beatles the expense of a third microphone (and by 1963 they could probably afford it) very little has been said of the musical collaboration between the two youngest Beatles. Overshadowed by the all conquering Lennon/McCartney partnership, it seems a McCartney and Harrison teaming was given very little consideration.

In fact they were responsible for the very first Beatles’ original committed to disc. ‘In Spite of All the Danger’ was a slow, moody blues in the style of Gene Vincent recorded by Percy Phillips in his Liverpool living room. It was amateurish for sure, but an entirely competent pastiche; it would still have been the finest song Elvis never wrote.  Paul later took full credit for the song, claiming George simply played the guitar solo – at the time he said, they did not realise that this did not constitute part of the song itself. For such ancient history, this does seem a littl bit like nit picking. It did not bode well for future collaborations; they only again shared credit on such innocuous instrumental fare as ‘Flying’ from the Magical Mystery Tour Soundtrack, ‘Dig it’ and the back-from-the-dead track ‘Free as a Bird.’

Lennon and McCartney were, at least to begin with, in awe of each other’s talents; Lennon envious of McCartney’s seemingly endless supply of melodies while Paul admired John’s compellingly direct lyrical style. They were excited about their song writing, quickly realising they would benefit from each other. Their remarkable pact to credit everything they did to ‘Lennon/McCartney’ was made when they were sixteen and honoured (just about) to this day. In the glow of this attraction, it seems Harrison found himself the musical gooseberry. Their underestimation of Harrison’s gift was later a cause of regret (John thought that ‘Something’ and ‘Here Comes the Sun’ were the only decent things on Abbey Road) and this early closing of ranks was a resentment Harrison carried with him beyond The Beatles’ demise.

Despite their lack of joint publishing credits however, their work together was still remarkable. Think of McCartney’s sizzling guitar solo in Taxman (perhaps returning the favour for In Spite of All the Danger) which was reversed to double the length. It became a source of irritation to George when fans declared it his best piece of work. George was equally careful with Paul’s songs; it was only in the last year or so that Paul confessed that the memorable four note signature in ‘And I Love Her’ was George’s work. It would have meant a co-writing credit in most other bands.

Both exciting players, they let rip together on such rockers as Birthday (1968) – their doubled bass and guitar lines powering this Cream-esque pot boiler. They traded similarly distorted guitar licks on Abbey Road’s ‘The End’ like members of The Eagles. 

Perhaps their finest collaboration was in George’s stellar ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (also 1968) with Paul’s fine high harmony and powerful juddering bass making it the closest they came to a duet. They repeated the trick on ‘Something,’ by which time Paul realised that it was he that was playing catch up in the song-writing stakes.

While their personalities clashed (the dour, acerbic Harrison irritated by the cheerful, driving McCartney) their bond was deep and enduring. Too much was made of their rift immediately after the Beatles break up when George wrote the mean-spirited ‘Wah Wah’ about Paul’s musical lecturing and played snide slide guitar on John poisonous character assassination ‘How Do You Sleep?’  When George Harrison died in 2002 Paul said ‘he was like a little brother to him.’  

Hearing their two voices together, pure and full of conviction, makes you realise that ‘McCartney/Harrison’ was a partnership of equally intriguing possibilities and lasting value.

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